There is an ongoing debate among followers of Christ as to whether The "Rapture" will take place before, sometime during, or at the close of the final 7 years of the present age known as the Tribulation Period. Opposers of the Pre-Trib and Mid-Trib teachings object to these views because of their assertion that if the Lord should appear to believers before the Second Coming of Christ at the close of the Tribulation then that would constitute a third coming of Christ and therefore must be rejected.
They contend that even though the Rapture Scripture in I Thessalonians 4:17 reveals that Jesus Christ does not return to the earth as is prophesied for the Second Coming, but only appears to believers in the clouds, that that event would still, in their opinion, have to be classified as His Second Coming.
They further assert that the catching up to Heaven of living believers along with the resurrection of the faithful dead, cannot take place before what they believe will be the final and only appearance of Christ at the end of the Tribulation.
This Post-Trib position may seem a worthwhile consideration to some, but as will be shown the Word of God refutes its foundational premise.
If the appearing of Jesus Christ to believers is truly limited to just one more time as the Post-Trib argument states, then we should not be able to document from Scripture any other catching up of believers to the heavens, no resurrection of any of the believing dead to glory and no appearances of Christ to believers between the time of His ascension to Heaven in 33 A.D. Until His Second Coming with His saints at Armageddon. This as we shall see is not the case.
In Acts 7:55-56 one can read where Saint Stephen saw the Lord Jesus in the heavens immediately before he was stoned to death. With breathtaking comparison to the glorious day of the Rapture, Jesus manifested Himself to a believer who was about to depart from this world, yet He Himself did not return to the earth at that time.
Adherents to the Post-Trib Rapture teaching will search the Bible in vain for a Scripture which limits Christ from appearing in the heavens to believers before His return at Armageddon.
It is without merit to maintain that Christ's appearing in the clouds at the Rapture in I Thess. 4:17 could only be His Second Coming.
The Scriptures further reveal that Jesus can even visit the earth prior to the Second Coming if He so desires.
In Revelation 1:9-18 the Apostle John tells us of just such a day when the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him. Interestingly enough John even shares a comparable statement which brings to mind a Rapture verse when he speaks of hearing "a loud voice, as of a trumpet."
We know by the context of this passage that this event was neither a futuristic vision of the Rapture nor the Second Coming. Once again we are shown that it is an indefensible argument which maintains Christ cannot appear to believers before the scripturally defined Second Coming at the close of the age.
To dispel the notion that Christ's appearance to John was only in a vision, one only needs to conduct a cross reference check with Rev. 4:1-2 of when John was later caught up to Heaven.
By reading Rev. 1:10 we know that John had already been anointed in the Spirit previously. When John then speaks of "immediately being in the Spirit" in Rev. 4:2 we know that he is not being redundant, but that something new has transpired. At this point we are shown that he has transcended the earthly dimension where he communed with Christ and is then being transported in a vision to the spiritual realm.
Revelation 11:3 & 7-12 further refutes those who say that no resurrection and catching up to heaven of believers can take place prior to Christ's Second Coming.
In this passage we are shown two believers who are killed and left to decay in the streets of Jerusalem for 3 « days during the days of the Tribulation Period. They are then resurrected from the dead by the Lord, according to Scripture, and stand up on their feet. Then, in full view of the world, a loud voice from heaven tells them to "Come up here" and they ascend up to Heaven in a cloud.
It is true to say that these are extremely rare and exceptional occurrences, but then so too is the event called the Rapture of the Church.
The Scriptures lend no support whatsoever to the position that if Christ ever appears to believers, resurrects the dead, or catches up living believers into the clouds it can only be the Second Coming.
A comparative study should be undertaken by any serious Bible prophecy student regarding the differences between the Rapture and the Second Coming.
The Scriptures describing the Lord's joyful, life-giving meeting with His saints in the clouds in I Thessalonians 4 and I Corinthians 15 are in vivid contrast to the vengeful Second Coming of Jesus Christ when He judges the earth with fire and blood as is described in Matthew 24:27-31 & Jude verses 14-15.
The differences between the two events are too numerous to discuss at length in this short message, but one quick example can be found in I Thess. 4:17. In this Rapture verse it is made absolutely clear that the Lord has come for His saints in order for them to be with Him forever from that time on and that Jesus has chosen for them to meet with Him in the very clouds of heaven.
The uniqueness of the original Greek for the word "meet" in this passage denotes a visit by a newly arriving dignitary. The word "visit" should require no further explanation. The Lord is shown by Scripture to have no intention of domiciling in the area at the time of the Rapture. If He is only on a visit then where does He intend to go back to with His beloved Church from there?
Revelation 19 reveals by prophecy that the saints will return with Jesus from Heaven after the Tribulation. Jude verses 14-15 also shows this identical coming of the Lord with His saints to the earth from Heaven.
There is no mention, nor the slightest hint of His coming to meet the living and dead saints in the clouds at that time. Instead we are shown that He will be bringing them with Him to judge the earth.
This harmonizes perfectly with Rev. 19:7,11 & 14 and Zechariah 14:4-5.
In the original Greek the "saints" of Jude verses 14-15 are more correctly rendered "holy ones." To disprove any argument that these holy ones are perhaps angels and not really saints one can refer to Professor A.T. Robertson's esteemed work, "Word Picture in the New Testament" Vol. 6. There they will find that the Greek used to describe "his holy ten thousands" in Jude verses 14-15 is in the feminine gender.
Further study on the subject of "angels' in a resource book such as "Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words" will reveal that "without exception" "angels are always spoken of in the masculine gender." With exceptional and noteworthy contrast, the sainted holy ones of the Church are described both in male and female terms, such as in its roles as both the Body of Christ and a Bride (see II Cor. 11:2 & Eph. 5:23-32).
How, one may ask, can we state without the slightest reservation that after Christ meets His Church in the air He will first take them to Heaven before He returns with them to the earth? It is because Jesus Christ told us so Himself with great clarity and without qualification in Ch. 14 of the Gospel of John.
Quoting verses 2-3 we read, "In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; so that where I am, there you may be also."
The original Greek word for "receive" in this passage (paralambano) means to receive from another or "to take." The uncompromising grammar of the text speaks of an immediate event that is to take place following His coming to receive His saints.
Nothing in Christ's words even remotely suggests that believers will be assembled at the Battle of Armageddon immediately after He receives them to Himself in the clouds, but instead gloriously reveals that they will be taken to their prearranged dwelling places in Heaven when He comes for them.
No where can it be found in Scripture that Jesus intends to return to Heaven with His saints immediately after His return to the earth at Armageddon. Instead, Scripture after Scripture reveals Christ fully intends from that moment on to set up His residency in Jerusalem for 1,000 years.
The vital question to consider is, will you be ready to go when the Rapture call goes forth?
You can be sure this moment by putting your faith in the Savior Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. It was by His shed blood upon the cross at Calvary that eternal life has been freely provided for all who will believe in the only begotten Son of God for redemption and it is by this same saving grace that men will ascend to Heaven.